Siem Reap: Farewell (adieu, adieu and not a moment too soon)

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I’m feeling marginally better. I hadn’t eaten in 2 days. No inclination whatsoever. I needed to walk several blocks down to the open market in order to find a duffle bag for souvenirs, and it pretty near did me in. The beating sun, seeing and smelling the raw pig, chicken and beef sitting on the ground in the market for sale, the humidity, diesel exhaust and the fact that I’m still battling a serious stomach bug from playing Dora the Cuisine Explorer and eating who-knows-what, was bad enough. The market was so large that I got turned around and completely lost track of the way back.

As always, I eventually found my way back after a couple back alleys where the small children stared at me as I walked by and added more steps to my journey than I needed for the shape I’m in.

Still I made it back to the hotel without a duffel bag and ended up taking a tuk tuk to the public market on the other side of town. He took me directly to a perfect place for my intended purchase where I probably paid too much for a canvas bag ($45 USD).

It was a most perfect trip but at this point, I’m ready to sleep in my own cold bed since I understand that it’s below 0 centigrade back in sunny California. I must remember to turn the heat on when I land at SFO via my iPhone (So glad to have installed a Nest that I can program over the Internet or my iPhone. Love. Love. Love.)

Once back at the hotel I packed up my suitcase plus duffle, called for my luggage to be picked up and headed to the lobby to check out. My only incidentals were bottles of water. You get 2 free each night and then it’s $5 a pop. I had several trying to stay hydrated so as to avoid a trip to the hospital where they think Tiger Balm is a pharmaceutical.

I was suppose to be on a 6:45 pm flight to Saigon and I was 2 hours early. The line to the counter was long and an hour later I finally made it… to the counter to check in. And a stomach bug was not the only gift waiting for me in Seim Reap.

I flew to Southeast Asia on a United ticket that took 6 weeks and 2 dozen phone calls to book, then rebook, then rebook after some obtuse leg of the flight was not confirmed. (see previous posts). The ticket was confirmed and cancelled a handful of times, and the last episode included confirming 5 of my 6 legs (sounds Hindu, doesn’t it?)

In the course of buying that one little leg on my own, 2 of the remaining 5 were mistakenly moved to the wrong day; the day before. So by the time I showed up at the counter of-so-ready to go home, my connecting flight in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh was gone by a day.

At first I thought I would deal with it when I got to Vietnam. After all, the leg was purchased separately. The obstruction was that I had no visa to enter Vietnam and they wouldn’t even let enter airspace without a visa. Additionally, my luggage could not be routed without a good flight confirmation number from United and they would not accept my luggage, much less me, without knowing I had a way out of Ho Chi Minh once there.

The Vietnam Airlines agent advised me to move to the side and contact United on my smartphone. At this I replied that I had neither cell service nor Internet inside the airport and what does he suggest? I was not about to lose my place in line that took an hour to achieve to go hunt down Internet or cell service. My flight out of Siem Reap was taking off in 50 minutes.

He motioned me to follow him down to the end of the counter as I weakly navigated my trolley. At the end of the counter I saw that I had gained cell service and began dialing. I will add that I always love this part because the United States is international code 001. Awesome! It’s good to be 001. I mean since we invented the phone and all.

Now if you thought United was impossible to deal with sitting in the comfort of my California residence with an American phone line, try to reach them from the Siem Reap airport terminal with the intercom blasting announcements in Khmer, people talking and then dealing with a United agent who, 9 times out of 10, has a thick Asian accent.

I was disconnected 6 times while watching the clock tick down on my flight. A couple of those times I’m certain the agent pushed me back into the system or just disconnected the call because they didn’t want to deal. And just like my experience in booking the flight, for as many times as I called back, I got a difference answer from the agent. Awesome if you like roulette. Not so much if you’re not a gambler or sitting in an airport with a travel stomach watching your connecting flight leave on a foreign airline purchased on a blue moon.

After being told by at least 2 agents that I wouldn’t be going home for a couple days, I finally reached one who re-routed me and got the deal done. I got off the phone and advised the Vietnam Airlines agent behind the counter that the confirmation number was now current.

“But I need the 16-digit flight code,” he replied. I stared at him and then began dialing again. 001… I ended up calling back twice more since the flight code didn’t work right away. Finally it did. But I had missed my flight.

“You will have to buy a new ticket,” the agent said, “and I’m not sure we have abailabilty.” (yes – that’s how I meant to spell it because that’s what he said.

I stared blankly at him, tears welling in my eyes because at that moment, it felt like a pile on.

The good news? Vietnam Airlines, aka the manager, showed me great mercy. He not only got me on the next flight for no added charge, he comped me First Class. Why? No clue. But I can say it was an act of kindness so dearly appreciated as I stood at his counter wanting to curl up in a ball in the corner. I think I was starting to feel hungry for the first time in 2 days.

I blew him a kiss as I walked away and patted my heart. “Blessings upon you,” I said as I made my way to customs. He just smiled a big Cambodian grin and added, “Have a grud fwight.”

Indeed.

Customs was another 45 minute wait but I had an hour and a half. Once through customs, I saw a Dairy Queen kiosk in the center of the airport. There it was. A picture of a big old American hot dog staring me right in the face. I don’t eat hotdogs. In fact, I’ve probably had 5 in my life. But I needed something American and I needed it fast. How bad could it be, right?

Real bad. I was half way though the little weiner when I noticed the inside was filled with flecks of purple something. What is purple that would be inside of a hot dog? I put the second half on the tray and started regretting the decision. About 5 minutes later I regretted it even more as I began getting queazy again.

At this point I’d have to live with the decision, but at least I had something in my stomach, or so I thought.

There’s no place like home

After 2 hours from Siem Reap, and another 15 from Hong Kong across Russia, Alaska and the North Pole, I an in Newark waiting in the United lounge for my final leg. I’ve decided I’m never eating again.

All I can think of is the clean smell of my house, a warm shower and a fresh bed.

In summary, the trip was amazing head-to-toe. I’ve made friends I hope to have forever, and experiences that will grow with each recall. I would recommend Southeast Asia to anyone who doesn’t mind the rough travel of third world countries and adventure that stretches the mind and body.

I won’t go back. Not because it wasn’t a blast, but because the world is just too big and a life is but a vapor. So many more adventures ahead.

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